You say Slumgullion, I say Schlumgallian

Schlumgallion

It’s one of those days. You know the kind: when you’ve been busy doing stuff all day, and you know you’ve been productive, but you’re not really sure exactly how. It’s been one of those puttery days, when you bask in creativity and execute tasks here and there, and start projects that you don’t care if you finish – those days are lovely.

But they end in those evenings, those nights really, when you realize that, oh, damn, we actually do have to eat dinner, and payday isn’t til tomorrow so pizza is NOT an option, and anyway, we can’t really justify ordering pizza when we have a house full of ingredients.

So you improvise.

For me, improvisation in the kitchen generally begins with sauteing onion and garlic in olive oil. I mean, really, what can’t you do with onion and garlic? So we started with that. And we added some 98% lean organic grass-fed ground beef that was mostly defrosted because I remembered to take it out earlier, but not really early enough.

Oh! There are mushrooms in the fridge. We should use those.

Oh! And tomato paste, because why not? And Worcestershire sauce, because it adds bite. Hmm. This is a little young. Squeeze in some lemon. Garlic and onion powders. Italian herb blend. Merlot-infused sea salt. Freshly ground black pepper. Stir til it bubbles, but it’s not quite complete.

Go to the fridge – nothing inspiring. Beets, but they SO don’t work with this. Maybe the freezer? Jackpot! A frozen veggie blend, kept around for “emergencies” just like this one.

So you add that and you stir, and then you turn the heat way down, and put a lid on it…what else? What else? Oh, awesome! Pasta.

I have this cannister on my counter. Whenever I make a pasta dish and don’t use all the macaroni or rotini or whatever, I put the extra (dry, uncooked) pasta in the cannister (note: dear autocorrect, canNister is an acceptable spelling for this word. Use one ‘n’ or two. Both are good). Nights like tonight, that pasta gets boiled in hot water, olive oil, a little salt, and when it’s done, it goes into the tomato and beef mixture.

Voila! a meal that isn’t horribly unhealthy, and doesn’t take forever to make, either.

But what do you call it.

Well, I grew up calling it, at least phonetically, “Schlumgallian,” with the assumption it was a family-originated made-up name for “throwing the kitchen sink in a pan,” but then I learned that there’s actually a dish called “Slumgullion,” which is an Irish word and refers to a “watery beef stew.”

Feral Kitchen‘s version of Slumgullion is not really that different from what I made. You can see their recipe here.

Mine is in the image at the top of the page, but the whole point of this dish is that you can make it with whatever’s at hand.

A Day Without Coffee

meteor coffee

I posted the other day that I was feeling blechy but not really sick, but last night – this morning really – that changed. I finished my column for All Things Girl just after midnight, and was watching Call the Midwife on Netflix.

(By the way if you haven’t seen Call the Midwife, do so. It’s a well-done BBC drama about midwifery in the 1950s and there are tons of fantastic female characters.)

And then my stomach, which had been tender all day, impelled me to go worship the porcelain god.

I must be very devout because I continued my bended-knee worshiping until nearly six AM, at which point I FINALLY, BLISSFULLY, was able to sleep.

I woke around 8 am to tell Fuzzy the dogs were fussing, and woke again around ten-thirty because I was sure they were fussing again, only to find out that they weren’t even in the room, because he’d fed them and taken them out…without being asked.

I made some tea and toast, and, somewhere, found the energy to start a batch of chicken soup in the crockpot and crashed again, woke up later, starving and somehow thought a peanut butter and banana sandwich would be okay for a lunch…and got lucky. I think I was craving comfort foods.

Went back to sleep, with Max and Perry in the bed with me…their doggy breathing is so relaxing to listen to…and slept til 6:30 or so.

And now? Now it’s nearly midnight, and I’ve had no coffee, and I’m not sure if I still feel SICK or if I’m just TIRED, but it’s probably both, and so I shall say Good Night.

Bubbles

Bubble Glass and Candles

In the china hutch in my dining room is a collection of bubble glasses, each originally a pale pastel, though the tint has aged into mere hints of color. They were my grandmothers, then my mothers, then mine. I used them a few times a year, mostly for special occasions: Egg nog on Christmas Eve, brandy on New Year’s Eve, sometimes champagne because I don’t own flutes. Well, I do, but I like the bubble glasses better.

At times, they seem as fragile, these hemispheres of translucent colored glass, as soap bubbles. There are times when I think they might just float into the air, tinkling as they meet each other in a gravity-defying toast, and then settling back into the waiting hands of myself and a few carefully chosen friends.

* * *

I can’t imagine soaking in a bubble-less bath. Ever since childhood, with the exception of a few flirtations with the “blue water” created by Vaseline Intensive Care Bath Beads, I have loved bubble baths, and longed for a deep tub, full of soft piles of white bubbles.

My favorite bathtub was in the apartment where I lived with my mother when I was nine. It was in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and it was a claw foot tub, and if you craned your head in just the right way, you could see the ocean through the tiny window.

My second-favorite bathtub was in the house Fuzzy and I rented in Sioux Falls, SD, our last year there. It was a prairie cottage, and it, too, had a cast iron claw foot tub, in a bright, airy bathroom.

My third-favorite bathtub is in the house we have now, in my (well, our) bathroom. The tub upstairs, the one guests use, is a plain old tub-and-shower combo with glass doors (I detest sliding doors on tubs). But in our bathroom, the master bathroom on the ground floor, we have a garden tub. It’s wide enough for two, and deep, and it’s set in a window (though, sadly, that window can’t be opened), and I spend many, many hours there, 40 minutes at a time.

Sometimes, when I’m soaking in the tub, one of the dogs comes to say hello, and I will catch up a handful of bubbles and blow them into the air. Teddy often ends up with bubbles on his head, and he tries to eat the ones that float. Max is more cautious (though he has a taste for scented (flavored??) bathwater. Perry lingers at the edge of the room. Cleo used to sit on the step into my tub and wait for me to finish. I miss her at bathtime.

* * *

When you’re in the ocean, you pay attention to the bubbles because they tell you which way is UP. I remember a couple of times, when I was a kid, and reckless, being rolled in whitewater when I misjudged where a wave would break. It disorients you. It makes you understand how people can drown in shallow water. Breakers are rough, even when the sand is less than a foot below you.

As I write this, I’m watching Blackfish, the documentary about the killer whales at Sea World. (I hate that we do this to animals. It’s one thing to have zoos to preserve species, it’s quite another to imprison animals solely for our entertainment.)

I shouldn’t be watching this right before sleep.
I keep watching the bubbles.

Image credit: limpido / 123RF Stock Photo

Post-Christmas Pajama Day Blues

reading in bed

Sometimes, I have pajama days.

Often on those days, I never bother to get dressed in “real” clothes, but because I work from home, I still get stuff done.

Other times, I turn everything off, and don’t even pretend to work.

I woke up yesterday morning feeling exhausted and dehydrated. “I’m writing a book review, and going back to bed,” I told my husband and our housemate. “I’m taking a sick day.”

I’m not actually SICK-sick; there’s nothing contagious. I’m just a little sinussy, overtired, dehydrated, crabby, and Marco the foster-pup is driving my allergies crazy, which is odd, because I’m not typically allergic to dogs.

I just needed a pajama day.

I spent yesterday sleeping and cuddling animals (yes, even Marco) and reading a mystery novel that I thought I was supposed to review on Monday (but I actually have another week for) and did I mention sleeping? Sadly, though, it was fitful sleep. I was too hot, too cold, had to use the bathroom, was incredibly thirsty, wash, rinse, repeat.

I woke up this morning feeling worse. “You’re going to have to be responsible for your own lunch,” I told my husband. “I’m writing this book spotlight that is due in an hour, and going back to bed.”

Except I didn’t quite go back to sleep. Instead, I made myself an omelet, read some more of that mystery novel (it doesn’t usually take me more than a day to read anything, so I know I’m feeling sluggish even if I’m not actually sick.), and watched some bad TV.

Then I took a bath.

Never underestimate the restorative properties of a really good steep in a tub full of bubble bath.

I didn’t read, or anything. Just closed my eyes, and steeped. Brewed. Marinated.

Then I washed my hair. I don’t often wash my hair in the tub, but sometimes it’s easier to just do it while I’m there. And sometimes washing it in the tub gives it extra body; don’t ask me why.

I’m not depressed or anything.
I don’t even feel blah – I just feel really depleted.

Here’s to a long weekend with tea and books and dogs.

And just a few more pajama days.

Image credit: abhishek4383 / 123RF Stock Photo

O Holy Night

O Holy Night

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

~ O Holy Night

2:40 on Christmas morning, but since we haven’t been to bed yet, for us it’s still Christmas Eve. This post, then, is short because between the hour and the amount of sugar and cognac in my veins, short is all I can do.

Tonight at mass, a young woman gave us the gift of her music: O Holy Night as a trumpet solo.

It was lovely and haunting, and even if a couple of her notes were wobbly, Christmas magic made her horn sound angelic.

It reminded me of another rendition of this carol, a carol I could never wrap my head around, until suddenly I could.

Enjoy:

Link (for iOS users):
O Holy Night – Studio 60

Dear Santa…

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

It’s that time of year again – the time that I write you a letter. I’ve been doing this for as long as I could read and write…do you remember?

When I was little, my mother served as your elf, writing my name in glitter on packages signed from you, and once, even leaving a trail of red construction paper footprints leading from my bedroom to the back of the couch, where the stockings were hung (we didn’t have a fireplace).

It’s because of her that I’ve managed to retain the ability to suspend belief, to find the bubble of magical delight that exists deep inside all of us, and to send it forth, sharing it with the world through words – essays and stories and songs – and yet, I never write these letters to my mother, Santa. I write them to you.

I don’t have a long list of “I wants” this year, Santa. Oh, there are tons of things I’d like to have – like the hoodie designed to look like a Star Trek: The Next Generation uniform, and this set of mugs I really like, but those aren’t things I need.

Other people, though, have real needs, so if you could transfer whatever allotment of North Polar magic I’m due to them, I’d really appreciate it. I even have some ideas:

I’m fostering two pit bull mixes right now, Santa. Madison is a two-year-old spayed female, and she’s as sweet as can be, though she prefers to not be around other female dogs, or any cats. Marco is a male puppy, who was born in a shelter and lived his whole life there, until he came to stay with me a week or so ago. I’d love for them to find forever homes with people who will love them as much as I do, but they’re safe for now.

More than that, I’d like for there to never be an unwanted puppy or kitten in the world. I’d like breeding mills and fighting rings to become things of the past. I’d like it if senior pets were either taken care of until they died naturally, or eased out of the world in the arms of the people who loved them.

I had a whole page and a half of other things to discuss, Santa, but I deleted it because I realized I was using my letter to you as a soapbox, and that wasn’t my intent.

And really, everything I wanted to talk about, even the animal issues I’ve already discussed, boils down to one thing:


COMPASSION

Compassion for each other, compassion for ourselves, compassion for the animals in our care, and those who exist in the wild, and compassion for this planet we call home.

We’re not, as a race, being very good stewards of the Earth or of each other. We’ve become cold and callous, embracing a “me first” attitude that is more than a little unpleasant.

It will be the end of us, Santa.

Already, friends and family members cease communications because they disagree with something they see in social media.
Our government representatives don’t cooperate with each other, and are smug about their non-cooperation.

It’s really sad.

And really scary.

So, Santa, please, bring us all a box of compassion this year. You can make my parcel a bit smaller than some, maybe a tiny bit larger than others, and I promise to share it, because the whole point of compassion, is that you do extend it to others.

I know in the past I’ve asked you for other intangible gifts. Love, generosity, patience – those are all things we still need in massive amounts.

But they come within the guise of compassion.

So, thanks, Santa, for listening, and considering my request this year. I wanted you to know that I’m completely over the whole wanting-a-pony thing. I mean, I have two huge dogs who are roughly the size of ponies already, and it costs a small fortune to feed and vet them. (Not that I would trade them for anything.)

But, if there’s a little extra Christmas magic, maybe whisper in the ear of my muse? My writing has been kind of hit-or-miss this year, and I could use some extra help.

Okay, extra help and the Star Trek: The Next Generation hoodie. In command red. Because even though Data was my favorite character, ops yellow makes me look sallow.

Image Credit: The Messy Desk of Santa Claus

Mulled Wine, Magic, and Dylan Thomas

Ornament and Cinnamon

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
~ Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Has anyone ever been more descriptive than Dylan Thomas? I just introduced a friend to Thomas’s brilliant book-length poem A Child’s Christmas in Wales and as I was reading it aloud, I found myself falling in love with the language all over again.

My first introduction to it was most likely via a reading on KPFA or some NPR station, but the first encounter I remember is when I was eighteen or nineteen. A friend had gifted me with tickets to the Christmas Show at a winery in Los Gatos, so my mother and I went.

The room was freezing, the crowd dressed elegantly beneath their coats and hats. Gloved hands clutched cardboard cups of coffee, cocoa, mulled wine.

We sat on chairs arranged on risers, and watched the show – a combination of the Thomas piece, “The Little Match Girl,” excerpts from “Anne of Green Gables” and the “Little House…” books, and some original transitional bits – that should not have worked as a single coherent story, but somehow did.

At the time, Dylan Thomas’s Christmas contribution was the only part that I wasn’t already fond of, didn’t already have a connection with.

But how could I not be?

Has another poet captured December any more vividly – especially December in a small coastal town? I think not. Sure, Robert Frost wrote eloquently about snowy woods, and Lucy (Maud Montgomery) and Laura (Ingalls Wilder) both touched upon the winter holidays in their books, but for the most part, their language was plain, simple, matter-of-fact.

Thomas captures our imagination. Thomas’s December, Thomas’s Christmas is made of imagination, memory, and mulled wine. It’s cinnamon and chocolate, cigar smoke and scary perfume.

When Thomas writes, you can feel the chill wind, and hear the crunch of snow under your feet, even if you’re reading him in a cozy, warm, well-lit kitchen in suburban Texas.

It’s been an ordinary day, with a few special moments – cuddling dogs, sharing brownies and coffee with friends, making homemade chicken soup because all of us have the traces of a cold.

But the fifteen minutes I spent reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales were made of magic.

I hope this sort of magic never leaves me.

* * * * *

Image credit: nilswey / 123RF Stock Photo

Random Musings on The Longest Night of the Year

The Night Book

The Night Book | Credit: iStockPhoto.com | Click to embiggen

They say that spring will come again
No one knows exactly when.
Still the sun’s a long lost friend
On the longest night of the year.

We didn’t actually see the sun until the late afternoon today, because we woke up to thick cloud cover and heavy, fat raindrops that plummeted to the ground with satisfying splashes.

I don’t mind. I’m one of the few that loves the dark mornings and long twilights that come at the deepest part of the year.

We stare into the firelight
While December beats outside
Where the darkest hearts reside
On the longest night of the year

Fuzzy and I spent the day mostly together. We slept late, celebrated being together again after his week-long business trip to Utah, lingered in bed listening to the rain.

We finally crawled out of the warm covers because the dogs insisted it was time to get up. How they knew, when we didn’t, remains a mystery to me. I guess they have some inner time clock that alerts them to things like dawn, dusk, and dinnertime.

So keep me safe and hold me tight
Let the candle burn all night
Tomorrow welcome back the night
It was longest night of the year

After dropping our foster dogs (Madison and Marco) and our foster-housemate (Ben) at PetCo, we came back to the house, listened to the holiday extravaganza episode of “Ask Me Another” on NPR, and made a grocery list of essential things for getting through the next ten days.

I meant to buy votives, and forgot…I’m pretty sure I have tapers and tea-lights. I love candles, but ever since Yankee Candle changed their default sample size from a normal votive to a tartlet, I haven’t been buying many.

I used to think the world was small
Bright and shining like a ball
Seems I don’t know much at all
On the longest night of the year

We came home again, unloaded the groceries, and had sandwiches. I did some writing; Fuzzy dealt with an issue in Hong Kong, and then it was back to PetCo to pick up all three of our strays.

We press our faces to the glass
And see our little lives go past
Wave to shadows that we cast
On the longest night of the year

Foster dogs always look so confused when you drop them off at adoption fair. Their eyes tell the story. “I thought I HAD a home,” they seem to say. If I could, I would keep them all.

Well, maybe not ALL of them.

But a good many.

So keep me safe and hold me tight,
Let the candle burn all night,
Tomorrow welcome back the light.
‘Twas the longest night of the year

Tomorrow – today, almost – is the last Sunday in advent. So fast, this year has gone. I accomplished some lovely little things, but none of the big things I had hoped for. Baby steps? Maybe.

Sometimes I think the things I’m keeping safe are the very things I need to send out into the world.

Make a vow when Solstice comes:
To find the Light in everyone
Keep the faith and bang the drum
On the longest night of the year

I’m sitting at my kitchen table. My kitchen smells like cinnamon and chocolate, but under it there’s the scent of sleeping dog and the twin aromas of love and hope.

I don’t have a candle lit, but there’s a wreath in front of me with three votives.

If they were lit, they would burn for the past – the people who influenced me, loved me, guided me.

They would burn for the present – even though we’re in a state of extreme, if temporary, cash-poverty, the bills are paid, the house is full of food, the dogs are well cared for, and we are all mostly happy.

They would burn for the future – for the words as yet unspoken, the stories yet to be written or told. For the dreams we keep on dreaming, and for the connection we have, Fuzzy and me, to each other, to our friends and families, and to the world as a whole.

So keep me safe and hold me tight,
Let the candle burn all night,
Tomorrow welcome back the light.
After the longest night of the year

“The Longest Night of the Year” was written (music and lyrics) by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Mixing it Up

Baking Cookies

From the time I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I’ve had this fantasy of owning a bookstore/cafe, only it wouldn’t be like the cafes nestled inside Barnes and Noble. Instead, it would be an old house, and each room would have a different theme, and matching menu. Sort of like that restaurant chain that I can’t remember the name of, where there was an African room and an Undersea room. Only in my fantasy cafe, there would be a mystery room and a science fiction room, and…well…you get the idea.

Fantasies are lovely, but the reality is that retail sucks, and the restaurant business is pretty thankless, and I prefer to let this dream remain in dreamland, indulging it, instead, by reading novels where recipes are prominent.

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is an example of this, but for some reason, mysteries feature food a lot more than anything else (well, the Pern books had a lot of great dishes, and Melanie Rawn’s Ambrai series…but…) and one of my favorite series is Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries.

I’ve been a fan of her work (and yes, I know “Cleo Coyle” isn’t really Cleo Coyle, but that’s not the point) since the first book, and have just finished the 13th, so you can imagine how tickled I was when she sent me an autographed copy of it after I contacted her about an interview for All Things Girl. I was even MORE tickled that she enclosed a bunch of recipe cards, one of which we’re making tonight.

Well, sort of.

The recipe card was for a candy cane frosting, but obviously if you’re making frosting, you must have something to, well, frost. Now, on her website, that frosting is paired with a standard brownie (from a mix) with a bit of ‘enhancement’ optional.

I don’t buy mixes.

And I have an excellent brownie mix, but it’s much more fun to go to the Source, Herself.

So I hopped on Facebook, and took a chance, asking if she had a scratch recipe that she’d recommend.

She did. And she sent me the link.

It’s a dark chocolate brownie with chocolate chips and espresso powder and…yeah.

I’ll post a follow up tomorrow afternoon when we put everything together (we’re making the brownies tonight, but will frost them tomorrow), and I’ll share the links at that time.

Meanwhile, y’all can go to bed imagining candy cane frosting on dark chocolate brownies.

Image credit: robynmac / 123RF Stock Photo

Maybe this winter…

Lantern Santa

“It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it.”
~John Burroughs, “Winter Sunshine”

Two weeks ago, we had an ice storm. Tonight we are in no danger of anything more threatening than rain, but on this last evening of fall, I can feel winter’s impending arrival even though I live in a climate where that ice storm could well be the only really wintry weather we get all year.

When I woke up this morning, it was 66 degrees, damp, and breezy. The cool, moist air felt like a favorite aunt was giving me a lingering goodbye hug.

This evening, the winter bite is back, and while the temperature has only decreased by about 30 degrees, there’s something different in the pulse of the world.

This chilly, damp weather gives me migraines, sometimes, and when I get them, I get really crabby – even bitchy – but I’m also at my most creative when it’s wet outside.

I also miss the beach.

There’s something magical about the beach in winter. The sand is cold and clammy, and the ocean and sky seem closer akin then they do when both are sun-warmed and blue. The smell is deeper, as if something from far below the surface has come for a visit, and there are different things to find.

In my dreams, Fuzzy and I walk the dogs along a winter shoreline.

In my waking life, I stare at the swimming pool and grin when it’s windy enough for the water to have some chop.

We keep talking about renting a beach house on the Gulf for a weekend, but we never actually do.

Maybe this winter…we will.

Or maybe we won’t, and I’ll have my moments of crabbiness soothed away by my husband’s tender kisses, or the wet-and-cold-nosed greetings of the dogs.

Maybe this winter I’ll find a way to channel the weather-enhanced creativity.

Maybe this winter I’ll incorporate more meatless meals into our diets.

Maybe this winter…

Today’s Santa: This one was a gift from my mother. He isn’t shiny or glass, but he’s one of my favorites because of the lantern he holds.